Trixie Little and the Evil Hate Monkey have been performing elaborate, acrobatic comedy burlesque in Baltimore, and all over the country, for years now and if you’ve ever seen their show, you know how gaudily specatacular the duo, a real-life couple, can be.
But MICA professor Kirsten D'Andrea Hollander's new documentary, "Us, Naked: Trixie and Monkey," screening at MICA on April 25, shows the difficulty of putting together such a show. It's not just learning all of those insane moves—they went to circus school in Vermont for two years to hone the physical and acrobatic part of their craft—but also figuring out how to make a living out of it, while maintaining their relationship.
As a documentary on the of total dedication of a pair of artists, "Us, Naked" both inspires and induces despair. It is, in many ways, a documentary of exhaustion. The duo is constantly on the road, scraping together money, and bickering about their act. But seeing the payoff in some fabulously shot performance scenes gives an artist, of any type, the sense of "if I just work hard and sacrifice everything, I can fucking do it."
But as is the case with all drama, the film is most affecting when it shows failure. At the Burlesque Pageant in Las Vegas, the duo perform separately and Monkey wins several top prizes in his category, while Trixie doesn't win anything at all. It is difficult for both of them to navigate the tension that this disparity creates and the viewer feels for them both. Shortly after, when they leave Baltimore, where Trixie founded Fluid Movement, it feels like another deprivation and sacrifice rather than a move up, but again, the scenes from their off-Broadway perfomances, among the most beautiful in the film, make it all seem worth it. And it's genuinely moving, if a bit sentimental, to see Trixie cry when Monkey proposes to her on stage during a performance. The film, which covers five years of their lives, makes us love them too.
As much as it is a documentary about performers, "Us, Naked" comes across as a profile of two fascinating humans.